Growing up my Dad told us that family comes first. I saw it in his discipline and the way it was encouraged. I saw it in my uncle always having a place to shower and land when he went through his many years of chosen homelessness. We spent holidays with our extended family, hopping from house to house toward the end of the year. It was kisses that were too wet and hugs that were too warm. It was sitting still through boring conversations because visiting family was about showing our elders love through respect. Family was my mom's years of petitioning to bring her mother and siblings to the states from Thailand. It was money spent and hours and red tape and bureaucracy with English as her second language. (She literally thinks in Thai before responding in English and has a brain for money and planning that I envy.) It is her constant sacrifice to help us out when it comes at a cost to her needs and wants. It was her choice to remain in a marriage that would not bring her joy for many years for my sake. She was Mom before she was who she is. My mom still teaches me that we show we love our family by doing what is best to teach and support each other, even at our cost because at the end of the day, our value is found in the joy of the lives of the children we lead - of the adults we love.
One of my sisters had a child who is now an adult, but spent her first year or so at home with us. When my sister stood on her own two feet and moved out, mom missed the "pitter patter of little feet." I was still in high school, so she did the amazing and decided to become a foster parent. Through her divorce, she remained a foster parent. To this day, we sometimes see kids that have now grown into adults that remember our "zoo" with fondness and return for love and to let us (mainly mom) know how they're doing. Foster care is ideally about a temporary home until parents can better care for their children, but sometimes it doesn't work that way. My mom started adopting kids. This made me part youngest, part oldest and part only child. I didn't really have anyone to get into shenanigans with or conspire against the parents with. I was telling on someone or being reprimanded by too many parents. I was a bad example of a grown up to the children that came after me.
Let me clarify, so I don't confuse you. . .
4 daughters from the first marriage, of which I am the baby. We're all black and Thai.
2 step sons and a step-daughter that refer to her as "Mom," and it melts the icy parts of my heart every time. They are caucasian like my Okie Step-Dad.
6 children through adoption. 2 Vietnamese sons. 2 Mexican sons. 2 Black daughters from different families of origin.
There are 3 in laws and my ex is the 4th but I don't count him anymore. Mom still does. She will always see him as a son. She always sees my sister's ex husband as a son. But she keeps her distance out of respect for everyone involved, and keeps old pictures because those memories are still special, if a bit bittersweet.
We are family and we're surrounded by Thai cousins, aunts and uncles all the time, with calls from our cousins in Houston too. We range in ages from 47 through 7 or so. I'm not sure about the baby's age as it changes every year and she will always be the baby to me. Some of us older kids have had children of our own and our family is ginormous. And international.
Our family gathers for most major holidays, and even the not so big ones. We celebrate birthdays once a month. We get together when we can in smaller groups but larger gatherings are at Mom's house where there is food from all of our cultures. Our family doesn't require blood or marriage. If you really just need a place to be for holidays, our family is big on welcoming you. You will eat more than you should and the drinks flow freely with laughter and the talks you expect from siblings that love you. There's honesty and raw emotion because we are people that won't always approve of what each other is doing, but will love each other through it. If you are coming as a date, there is a long period of breaking in before we decide if you are good enough to deserve the person we would move mountains for.
Our family is tolerant. There are those that are not okay with chosen life styles, but we never withhold love because of it. We have gay family members and a cross dresser that helped me put on fake lashes. He is a better girl than I am and he deserves my breasts more than I do. He can probably work them like I can't.
We love each other enough to help when we can, at no cost. There are medical professionals in the family. My paper tiger skills have been called on. My nieces tag team babysit when I need them to. My cousin is a creative mechanic and will help out when he can. We don't do it with a price in mind because we're family and that's what family does. That's what family means.
If you thought my 3 surrogate pregnancies were impressive, I have two sisters that did it as well. That's who we are. We understand the value of family and life and the miracle of childbirth.
When I wanted to wait out my ex's midlife crisis, my family held their tongues. They supported me through it. When I decided it was time to let go, I was met with love and respect and encouragement.
Even when we are angry with you or don't agree, we will always fix the rift because you are family and this is what our family does. Love often looks like lectures and written checks to bail us out, knowing that repayment may never happen, but hoping it one day will. It looks like sacrifice and lots of food. It looks like jumping in front of your car and stealing your keys when you've had too much to drink and making sure you are in a recovery position when you need to sleep it off. It's trips together when we can all plan and budget it. It's texting late at night or early in the morning because your sibling is your friend, the one you call and rely on when it matters the most.